Taking Care of Our Own

Law enforcement is without a doubt a dangerous profession and one which involves the possibility of death. Whether we discuss it or not, every time we put on our uniform or pin on a badge we face the possibility of not returning home. As unfortunate as it is to lose a brother or sister in the line of duty, it is even worse when that officer is lost not at the hands of a perp but by their own hand after a long and distinguished career. Even more unfortunate is the fact that, although suicide is a real part of the profession, it is talked about even less than all of the other dangers officers face.

Each year, more officers are lost to suicide than are lost to gunfire in the line of duty. This should come as no surprise given the high stress nature of the profession. Add the almost-daily exposure to violence, unnatural death and the most hideous acts one human can commit on another and you have the perfect recipe for depression, substance abuse, alcoholism and even suicide itself. All of this is made even worse by the fact that suicide, or even mental illness itself, is a subject most in law enforcement consider taboo.

The upside is that suicide is preventable – if addressed early with proper awareness and intervention. Although family, faith leaders and non-law enforcement friends also have the ability to intercede, it is an officer’s blue family – his or her law enforcement brothers and sisters – who are in the best position to have a positive impact. Not only are we better trained to recognize the warning signs, but we also spend more time with each other and see each other at our worst. We just need to be willing to admit there might be a problem.

Police LightsOf course, the first step is recognizing that something might be wrong. Obviously an officer who threatens to hurt themselves or talks about suicide is asking for help. But what about the more subdued signs that something is wrong? Has your partner started drinking more? Is he/she looking for excuses not to go home at the end of a shift? Maybe they have simply given up and are no longer interested in promotions or otherwise advancing their career. Singularly, either of these changes in behavior could be a temporary bump in the road; but, when combined with other changes, they could be a cry for help. The question is: “Are you listening?”

The next step is to ensure depressed officers feel that they can seek help without being cast out or painted with a career-ending stigma. Department leadership must establish an environment which conveys concern for the officer rather than the department image or liability. Fellow officers need to recognize that we are each human first and officers second; no matter how tough we act, the fact remains that as humans we all have a breaking point and some will reach it quicker than others.

The final step is to have a support network available when needed. Whether that network is peer counseling, a professional co-workers can be referred to or a combination of both will vary by department and differ in each case, but it must be available before it is needed. Aside from having such a network available, it is vital that each and every employee know what it is and how to access it before it is needed.

We face enough danger from the suspects we pursue; we cannot afford to add ourselves to the list of day to day threats.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell

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